Camden curfew blocked by lawsuits, delays

Posted: May 08, 2012

Instead of shutting down late-night businesses early, Camden’s curfew law has become the tale of one delay after another.

A lawsuit scheduled to be heard Tuesday from some business owners and city activist Frank Fulbrook challenging the ordinance has been delayed until the end of summer.

And the city, which has yet to enforce the law passed in September, plans to convene a meeting later this month to discuss enforcement by summer.

The ordinance — which mandates that businesses in residential zones or within 200 feet of a residential zone close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays and between midnight and 6 a.m. on weekends as a way to help curb crime — went into effect Sept. 19. But the city has yet to close down any of the affected businesses.

The slaying of a bystander about 5 a.m. April 27 inside a 24-hour takeout restaurant, on the corner Martin Luther King Boulevard and Broadway, revived the enforcement conversations at last week’s City Council meeting.

“It’s in vain if it’s not enforced,” Council president Frank Moran complained last week.

The mayor’s office will schedule a meeting for the end of May with all Camden business owners to explain the new law, Corrales said, before police and code enforcement officials crack down on late-night businesses. The curfew ordinance does not apply to pharmacies or businesses holding liquor licenses or selling fuel. However, gas station mini-marts within 200 feet of residential zones would have to close.

City officials deny the shooting death of Franklin Parker, 36, inside the Broadway Food Court was a trigger for planning the business meeting.

“There’s a lot going on in the city, and we’re trying to do multiple things to address public safety,” Corrales said Monday. “It was just a matter of timing.”

The Fulbrook lawsuit, which was filed the day before the ordinance went into effect Sept. 19, was consolidated in April with a similar lawsuit filed by 7-Eleven. Both will be heard together by Camden Superior Court Judge Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Aug. 15, at which a new trial date will be set.

The 7-Eleven suit argues that the city curfew is unconstitutional, arbitrary and capricious.

“It would be curtailing the hours that 7-Eleven is built on,” company spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said Monday, citing 7-Eleven’s 24-hour model. Camden has two stores, both on Federal Street.

Camden has tried several times to establish business curfews but pulled them back or lost legal challenges from Fulbrook in 1998 and 2006. Fulbrook, who lives in the Cooper Grant neighborhood and rents to Rutgers-Camden students, says his fight is for “economic freedom.”

Liaqat Ali, of the Broadway Food Court and one of the plaintiffs in the Fulbrook lawsuit, is hoping Fernandez-Vina will grant a temporary restraining order on the curfew until it is resolved in court. Shutting down at 11 p.m. and midnight would put him in the red, he said Monday.

“We would lose a lot of income, plus I would have to fire employees,” Ali said.

He needs to be open 24 hours to afford the $7,000 monthly rent for his prime location, he said.

Ali and Chabris said late-night businesses should not be blamed for the city’s crime.

“This kind of accident,” Ali said, referencing the Parker slaying, “can happen anywhere and at anytime.”

Deputy Police Chief Michael Lynch compiled an expert report on behalf of the city stating that crime increases by 58 percent on average in neighborhoods that have late-night businesses. But Fulbrook says his team has an expert report from a Rutgers professor that rebuts the Lynch document, which it will presented to Fernandez-Vina.

Contact Claudia Vargas at 267-815-1953, cvargas@phillynews.com or on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, “Camden Flow,” on philly.com

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